THE FREE STATE'S FORGOTTEN RAILWAY LINE
Dover to Vredefort
Author: Horst Müller
An article on The Heritage Portal about disused rail lines in South Africa prompted me to put this article together, taking stock of what is still around and how it used to work. This article is about the unused line from the Dover Station through Parys ending in Vredefort.
Dover is on the mainline between Vereeniging and Bloemfontein. It used to be a station; not anymore, no trains stop here. The rail control that used to be in the roofless building on the right in the photo below is gone, everything is controlled from a central rail control centre.
Map showing the railway line between Dover and Vredefort
Dover Station (Horst Müller)
From here was the branch off to Parys and Vredefort. The photograph below was taken standing on the rail that would take the trains to Parys, the signals are still there.
Dover Station Branch Off (Horst Müller)
Just out of the station there are no more rails. After some theft, the railways decided to clean up and take off all the rails and sleepers. I don't know for how far. Further down, at Weiveld, the rails are still in place. The picture below was taken by me standing on the rail bed. Nature has started to take back the space. And in some cases, I noticed, farmers have already reclaimed the servitude.
Outside Dover station (Horst Müller)
The line between Dover and Parys was laid in 1905, the extension to Vredefort came later. I don't have exact dates, but it was probably in the early 1930s. It was officially closed in 2001 as part of the business restructuring of Transnet.
First train arriving at Parys Station in 1905 (Parys Museum)
There are four stations or halts: Weiveld, Calais, Parys and Vredefort. The first one out of Dover, 15 km, is Weiveld. All I can show of the station is a view from the top of the silos, one can barely make out the rail running parallel to the road, on the side nearest to the viewpoint. The actual station was under the trees. Nothing is left of that, but one can see that it had a sideline so that trains can pass and be loaded.
Weiveld (Horst Müller)
I have no data on when the silos were built, it looks like they are from the 1960s. A short piece of rail from the station served the silos for loading of rail cars.
The most significant structure of the whole line is the station building of Parys. It was built, as the inscription shows in 1930. When I first came to it, some years ago, it was a ruin, some of the roof was missing, was dirty and had lost a few of its window frames.
Parys Station Ruin (Horst Müller)
Here the railways did something positive and sold the building to a contracting company, the main business of the company is rail construction. The station building became the company's headquarters. The building was cleaned, refurbished, re-roofed and repainted, the window frames were all replaced with wooden frames.
Parys Station Refurbished (Horst Müller)
One of the station's activity was to load blocks of granite extracted from the numerous quarries in the area. What is still visible of that is a loading frame, but that one looks a bit weak for the big blocks. There was another crane which is not there anymore, but the rails it moved on still are. Another item from the days of steam is the water dispenser. The overhead tank is still in the yard.
Parys Station water bowser (Horst Müller)
Between Parys and Vredefort the country is more hilly and the tracks had to follow the contours of the hills. To cross the Skuilspruit a 4 span bridge had to be constructed. At this point the rails are still in position. Further on towards Vredefort, so I was told, some of the rails have been stolen.
Skuilspruit Bridge (Horst Müller)
Vredefort Station is about 16km from Parys and it is the last station of the line. The station building is still there and has been converted into a shop, selling basic requirements, it even provides cash loans. The building is not in its original state, it has been extended with an annexure towards the rail side.
Vredefort Station (Horst Müller)
Vredefort Station Building (Horst Müller)
The rails extend from the station to the silos further back. This from a time when the rails were used to move agricultural products around. Now, all this has to be moved by road. This station was also used to load blocks of granite, as seen by a loading crane with three blocks of granite still lying nearby, waiting to be loaded, which obviously now will never happen. I had a closer look at the loading facility. The crane is a stationary structure with travelling overhead lifting. The truck carrying the blocks would move under the frame next to the rail. The crane lifts the block off the truck and travels with the load over to the rail truck. I took some measurements of the blocks still there and found that they would be weighing between 15 and 20 tons each.
Vredefort gantry crane (Horst Müller)
About the author: Horst originated from Germany many years ago. He has spent a lifetime working for some of the major chemical companies. Throughout his life he has had an interest in local history and has now, in retirement, made this his major hobby. He believes in not just doing the exploration and research but to also write down his findings. Check out his website here. Horst is a regular contributor to The Heritage Portal.